Olson on Ruiz Fernández, 'England and Spain in the Early Modern Era: Royal Love, Diplomacy, Trade and Naval Relations, 1604-25'

Óscar Alfredo Ruiz Fernández
Tiffany Olson

Óscar Alfredo Ruiz Fernández. England and Spain in the Early Modern Era: Royal Love, Diplomacy, Trade and Naval Relations, 1604-25. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020. 296 pp. $115.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-78453-117-1.

Reviewed by Tiffany Olson (University of California Riverside) Published on H-War (April, 2021) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=56070

Óscar Alfredo Ruiz Fernández’s research primarily focuses on Anglo-Spanish relations in the early seventeenth century and this is the stage for his most recent work, England and Spain in the Early Modern Era: Royal Love, Diplomacy, Trade and Naval Relations, 1604-25. In this work, Ruiz Fernández depicts Anglo-Spanish relations through the activities of Spanish ambassadors in England. His intervention is effective because it outlines the customary practices and methods deployed by Spanish ambassadors to restore and maintain peace with England during the reign of James I. This view gives a fresh perspective on the volatile relations between Spain and England in this period. He identifies important Spanish ambassadors stationed in England like Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Conde of Gondomar, and Don Pedro de Zúñiga. Ruiz Fernández uses ambassadors’ diary entries, financial ledgers, and letters to King Phillip III and King Phillip IV to present a more detailed history of the Anglo-Spanish relationship. In this, his work is unique. Ruiz Fernández also utilizes other underused sources such as works of art, Spanish and English literature, and sea and port documents to support his interventions.

The book begins with the succession of King James I in 1603, which marked a major transition in Anglo-Spanish relations from years of bloody warfare to peace. Spain and England had been battling one another in the Anglo-Spanish War since 1585, with the English famously defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588 and entering into the Elizabethan “Golden Age.” The conflict, however, continued throughout the remainder of her reign and was expensive for both participants. Upon his ascension, James I began peace negotiations with Spain, resulting in the signing of the Treaty of London in August 1604.

Ruiz Fernández sets the scene of Anglo-Spanish relations by first outlining why peace was important to each country. After suffering embarrassing military defeats to both the English and the Dutch Republic, Spain was exhausted and desperately needed time to rebuild and recover. Spain’s main priority in the peace negotiations was to separate England from its Dutch allies. James agreed to do so, much to the chagrin of the United Provinces. In return, England wanted free trade and economic access to Spanish markets at home and in the West Indies. After both countries compromised on several other issues, most notably concerning English Catholics and English pirates, an accord was reached in 1604. These issues would be revisited again in the 1620s, but by that time the political climate had changed drastically. Ruiz Fernández asserts that James I and Prince Charles had vastly different views in Spanish foreign policy. James I enthusiastically advocated for peace during his reign, while his son urged a return to hostile, Elizabethan-era Spanish relations. Ruiz Fernández explains that Charles’s anti-Spanish rhetoric was due to the breakdown and failure of the so-called Spanish Match—an attempt by King James I and King Phillip III and King Philip IV to arrange the marriage between Prince Charles and the Infanta Maria Anna of Spain (p. 33). This failed match and transition of English power would again reignite armed Anglo-Spanish conflict.

Ruiz Fernández asserts that the success of Anglo-Spanish relations was due, in part, to the political savvy and financial resources of the Spanish ambassadors at the English court. He outlines the methods ambassadors used to bring many English nobles and courtiers to their side. It was critical for Madrid to maintain peace with England, and the Spanish were willing to pay the high price for it. Ruiz Fernández breaks down the secret subsidies the envoys distributed to cement the Anglo-Spanish peace and Spanish presence at the English court. These subsidies also supported the Catholic agenda in a Protestant England, another venture important to Phillip III and Philip IV.

The book incorporates micro histories of individual Spanish ambassadors (Gondomar and Zúñiga) to illustrate the macro history of Anglo-Spanish relations during the early seventeenth century. These micro histories allow readers a closer look into the individual politics that created the Anglo-Spanish relations and peace. The introduction of several key ambassadors adds personal complexity and individuality to the Anglo-Spanish narrative. The use of ambassadors’ letters and diary entries helps readers understand the atmosphere of the English court—as well as the rising anti-Spanish sentiments felt once the Thirty Years War erupted in 1618.

If the reader is not well versed in the histories of both countries, the book can be challenging to follow, as it does not adhere to a strict chronology. This book is especially useful to economic historians of the era, as the chapter dedicated to diplomatic finances is especially thorough (p. 59). Ruiz Fernández succeeds in his goal to tell the story of Anglo-Spanish relations during the early seventeenth century through the words and experiences of Spanish ambassadors. England and Spain in the Early Modern Era is a refreshing and well-researched addition to the historiography of Anglo-Spanish relations.

Citation: Tiffany Olson. Review of Ruiz Fernández, Óscar Alfredo, England and Spain in the Early Modern Era: Royal Love, Diplomacy, Trade and Naval Relations, 1604-25. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=56070

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.